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Thursday, September 23, 2010


robert mangold

In case you're wondering what this image is about, earlier I was surfing YouTube looking for videos of shows by particular artists I like a lot, but don't get to see much of. Mangold I went to first. Then Barnett Newman, who largely painted vertical stripes on a field of a given color, and the vertical stripes will be of a given color. Example: In the modern art museum in Amsterdam was a Newman something like 15 feet long and about 7 feet high. At least this size. The surface is painted a gorgeous red the likes of which you only find in China where they really know red. A vertical stripe on the left side in blue, maybe 7 or 8 inches wide. On the right side a vertical stripe of yellow maybe a couple inches wide. It was heralded as one of the great pieces of art of that period of the modern era. Some mentally imbalanced mess, no doubt a drug casualty, walked the length of it with a knife slicing a gash all the way. A glitch in civilization. Art restorationists have never, as of the last I read about it, years ago, been able to bring it back to the original luminous color. I think it died.

Last time I was in NY, a long time ago, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the 20th century area with a friend who knew NY. She freaked me out. We came around a corner and stood face to face with an upright slab of steel standing straight up without visible assistance, maybe 7 feet wide and 5 feet high. This is memory coming up with these measurements. I'll have to say it's ballpark, approximately, margin of error, 30%. It was attributed to Ellsworth Kelly, an artist I think a very great deal of, a very great deal. She set out on a harangue about expecting her to believe that's art when it's nothing but a slab of steel. It went on and on. I went and sat before a Pollack that knocked my sox off. Another harangue, it's nothing but slung paint. Anybody can do that. My thought response I kept to myself, then why isn't anybody else doing it? We didn't have much fun that day. I wanted to go to the Egyptian section and see sculptures and one thing and another. She'd wait outside. She's Jewish. Egyptians are enemies of the Jews. Ok. Whatever. They're also the source of Western Civilization, but what does that matter? It was good to get back to the mountains. That's my Ellsworth Kelly story.

Found a video of Barnett Newman, the one who does vertical stripes, the 12 paintings of his in the National Gallery in DC called The Stations of the Cross. They were mostly vertical white canvases with a vertical black line on it, different places on different ones, then a wide black line and a narrow black line on white. Then it went to a canvas of off-white paint with a white vertical stripe. Then one with 2 white vertical stripes. I've stood in that room, a whole room devoted to these paintings, next door to a room full of Mark Rothko paintings that glowed on the walls. I remember those two rooms and forget almost everything else in there except a Robert Motherwell Ode to the Spanish Republic, big black forms on white, and a thing by Robert Rauschenberg that looked like a small cardboard box, maybe a foot and a half square, memory dimensions again, smashed flat and hung on the wall. That's exactly what it looked like because that's what it was. Until I looked behind it and saw it was made of clay. I went back to look at the front and it was still a cardboard box. I think 2 of them hung side by side.

I found a video of an exhibition of color field artists, including all I've mentioned here and several others. I knew I liked this kind of painting an awful lot, but never saw a show of several, just one in art magazines at a time or art books. It's not like I have access to museums, so I'm finding YouTube a magnificent resource for art of the 20th century. I've just begun to tap it. Looked up some RB Kitaj, too. In fact, it was a show of his at the Met that my friend and I went to see, because she wanted to see it, likes him a lot. It was incredible. Until I wanted to see some more abstract sorts of things with the abstract expressionists and minimalists. I suppose I had her along as an anchor to keep my feet on the ground instead of having an ecstatic experience surrounded on all walls by art I love in a great big way. Kelly most often puts two colors in relation to each other. He uses shapes like circle, rectangle, triangle, square, vertical lines, horizontal lines. I was looking at a few places on YouTube of exhibitions of Kelly that I can only say moved me emotionally. An intake of breath and a feeling of joy looking something like the one above by Robert Mangold, whose work isn't a whole lot different from Kelly's and at the same time very different.

After that, I swore off going to museums any way but alone. I'd had other museum experiences with somebody along that were never satisfactory. I don't even like to go to movies with somebody any more. It's fun to take a kid to see Ninja Turtles 1, 2 & 3, or watch Weird Al videos with kids. That's a lot of fun. Kids get tickled at funny skits or whatever and laugh like crazy. Now with netflix I don't have to miss everything. I heard this morning or yesterday on the news that Blockbuster has declared bankruptcy and netflix stock is going way up. Last time I was at the video store in Sparta, I brought one back one day late and had to pay over $5. I could have walked out the door, because it was my first thought when he told me that. He looked like maybe 17 in a heavy metal tshirt, a bit overweight--sign of a video game nerd. Maybe 2nd or 3rd day on the job. When I paid it I didn't want to say anything dramatic like you'll never see me in here again, though that was my meaning when I said, "Netflix is gonna put y'all out of business." "Huh?" "Never mind." When they sell out here, I'm not going to go looking for bargains on dvds. They've never had much I wanted to see. Bruce Lee about covered it for foreign films.

In many ways I can call this the best period of my life. Free to paint as I want to paint now that I know what I want to paint. Netflix for movies I love, nearly every one. All my adult life I've loved what are called foreign films. This doesn't mean I don't like any American films. It only means I like foreign films, movies in other languages and stories in other cultures, as well as my own. I've heard it enough times in response when I confess I like foreign films, What's wrong with American films? Like this is the Rush Limbaugh show, Wimp! Whatever. It's like that country song from some time ago, If you don't know, I aint a-gonna tell ya. From now on it's up to you, baby. Today's Kitano film was Kids Return. I'm glad I found Kitano. I like every one of his films. That can be said of many others, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, too many to list. The joy of it is films from everywhere in the world; Senegal, Thailand, Denmark, South Africa, Brazil, just a few in a very long list. Painting what I want to paint as I want to paint it, seeing 2 and 3 movies a week of the best films I've ever seen, hearing whatever music I want to hear, writing to you every day, reading what I want to read in my Blue Ridge Mountain home.

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